Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Unnaturalists

The Unnaturalists

Tiffany Trent
For ages 12 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2012   ISBN: 978-1442422063

Long ago a man called Tesla transported a part of Victorian London and brought it to an alternate place that is full of magical creatures such as harpies, manticores, and pixies. Since then the powers that be in New London have been doing everything they can to wipe out the magical nonhuman creatures, which they call Unnaturals. As far as they are concerned, magic is heresy and it needs to be destroyed.

   Though Vespa Nyx’s teenage girl peers are happy to be getting ready for marriage and a respectable life, Vespa is not in the least bit interested in clothes, balls, and marriage. She wants to continue to work in the Museum of Unnatural History with her father, cataloging new Unnatural specimens and mounting them in displays. She hopes to be able to hold out against being turned into a lady for a while longer, and then her life takes a dramatic turn.

   It all begins when someone pushes Vespa into the magical force field that is containing one of the Unnaturals on display in the museum. The Sphinx, which is a very powerful and dangerous creature, is released and Vespa is saved by her father’s new assistant, Pedant Lumin. Not long after this incident Vespa accidentally releases a flock of magical sylphids and Pedant Lumin tells her that he believes that she is witch. Vespa is horrified when she hears this and refuses to believe it, but just a short while later she realizes that he might be right.

   When Vespa delivers a letter for her father to an antiquarian shop she is able to see beyond the illusion that shrouds the shop. In reality it is a Hexshop, a place where people can buy magical things. Not long after, she is able to use her magical ability to stop a runaway cart from running over a blind man. Pendant Lumin helps her, but she does her part to save the man from being crushed to death.

   After all these happenings, Vespa can no longer deny what she is, though she has no idea what she is supposed to do about it. What she doesn’t know is that the Manticore, a powerful Unnatural who lives in the forest outside New London, needs her. The Manticore is the only thing that is preventing the establishment in the city from wiping out all the Unnaturals and thus destroying all the magic in the land. The Mantiore needs Vespa’s help, so she sends a Tinker boy called Syrus to New London to get the young witch. Syrus is not at all keen on doing the job, but no one in their right mind says no to the Manticore. He never imagines that finding Vespa is going to be a very dangerous business.

   In this thrilling young adult novel Tiffany Trent weaves together the story of two very dissimilar characters, Vespa and Syrus. Their stories are told in alternating chapters, and it is fascinating to see the magical world where they live from two different perspectives. Though she has been raised to believe in science and logic and to abhor magic in any form, Vespa begins to realize that she has been lied to all her life and magic is not an affliction. It is a gift, a precious one that has to be protected at all costs.